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5 Kid-Friendly Drawing Tips from a Dad with 3 Pricey Art Degrees

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I didn’t amass a small fortune in college loans just to teach my sons to draw, but after realizing I had no idea how to put my three art degrees to use, that’s now exactly where I stand.

Many college students either fail to tap into their expensive skill set or decide during sophomore year they’ve had a change of heart, so I’m hardly alone. But for me, helping my boys become better artists is the best Plan B.

I can sketch better than most dads, but that doesn’t matter to my sons. They chuckle if I don’t nail Spider-Man or The Hulk on my first try, and they eagerly scribble over my masterpieces shortly after I present them.

No matter. They’re drawing right along with me these days. As a parent, that’s all I can ask. It’s also a perfect excuse to turn off the tablet and watch them fire up the right side of their brains.

So, to partially justify my arts education, consider the following tips when hunkering down to create with your own children.

1. Let them draw outside the lines.
As a boy I’d tear my hair out watching my grandmother use the “wrong” colors. Years later, I found myself struggling to break the rules in art class. As one professor bluntly told me, “you’re talented… but uptight.” Let your children paint, draw and sketch outside the lines. Imaginations shouldn’t be penned in. Nor should children.

2. Don’t limit their tool chest.
I entered college as a drawing whiz, but I had very little experience away from my no. 2 pencil. I could barely paint a flower. Make sure your children try a range of media. Paint. Chalk. Pencil. Clay. You never know which one will ignite a creative streak.

3. Have them look, and look again, at the world around them.
Teach your kids to really study their subject before they begin sketch—their artwork will be the better for it. I never forget the images I sketch. Why? Because I stare at them so intensely starting with the first line I draw. (Try drawing a friend’s portrait—when you draw the eyes I bet you instinctively put down two flat oval shapes rather than studying the eyes’ organic curves.) It’s tempting to sketch what we think we see versus what’s actually in front of us.

4. Listen to music.
My most peculiar art professor insisted on playing classical music in class. We groaned every time she cranked up the Bach, begging her to put on some rock songs instead. She refused. Looking back, she had the right idea because music can lead to increased creativity. For children, playing classical music also could introduce them to the great musicians of yore.

5. Teach your kids to trust their instincts. 
Art instruction can be a powerful motivator. An expert’s point of view can nudge a budding illustrator in the right direction. Sometimes, though, you should just trust your gut. One art professor would often suggest we add a dog into our compositions. I resisted that urge and never looked back. Teaching your kid that when it comes to art, they should follow their creativity, even if it sometimes means to go against what they’ve been told to do.

Photo credit: Christian Toto

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